Pitching 500 wins in baseball is a rare feat, and only one professional player — Cy Young — has ever achieved it. But in February, former major league pitcher John Verhoeven reached his own 500-win milestone from a different position: as head coach of the Biola men’s baseball team.
“I was happy to get it, but I just felt like my players were more excited than I was,” he said of the victory, which came Feb. 16 against the University of British Columbia. “It just made me realize how long I’ve been coaching is what it did, really.”
Verhoeven became head coach at Biola in 1998 and now has 35 years as a baseball player and coach under his belt. In his 15 years at Biola, the Eagles have won 521 games. (The team finished their season in May with a 26–29 record.)
During his career at Biola, Verhoeven has been awarded Golden State Athletic Conference Coach of the Year five times, and his teams were GSAC champions each of those years — four of which were his first four years on the job. Other outstanding accomplishments on his baseball resume include playing time with the Minnesota Twins, California Angels and Chicago White Sox.
As a coach, Verhoeven said he focuses more on strategy and execution than trying to build an overpowering team. Instead of expecting his power hitters to bunt or his smaller players to hit home runs, he seeks to utilize each player’s individual skills.
“Pitching and defense wins games,” he said. “All you need as far as hitting — you don’t need great hitting, you just need timely hitting.”
With an overall winning record of 512–275, his coaching philosophy has proven to be a winning one.
“With him playing in the pros in the past, he really knows the different levels and fundamentals of the game,” said senior outfielder Vinnie Fayard, who was also part of the team for Verhoeven’s 400th win. “Having coached at the school for years and years, he has been through it all and uses his past experiences to help us grow as players and teammates.”
Verhoeven credits his success to the players he’s had over the years. When he remembers past seasons, he recalls the players more than the games. That might be because of how much he has invested in the teams that passed through Biola over the years.
Verhoeven tries to treat his team with the same respect he treats his family, and he still keeps in touch with some of his former players. And he spends time getting to know the current team, taking time out to ask them about career plans or life struggles. Senior third baseman Drake Fages said he has even personally funded scholarships for players struggling financially.
“Here on the baseball team we don’t have a lot of money to give out or funds to put into the field, but what Biola has had is a coach who literally gave his life to a program,” said Fages.